The drive-in movie theater turns 82 this year, but that’s no reason to drop him off at the retirement home for good. The drive-in is fresh open air, communal atmosphere and the food and drink menu of your choosing. All of these factors makes a trip to the drive-in a summer tradition as American as baseball, apple pie and all of those things the baby boomers told us were important. Here are some essentials you’ll want to have in mind the next time you roll into the drive-in.
1. Bring a seat!
Just because you’re headed to the drive-in doesn’t mean that you’re stuck in your car seat for the entire evening. Theaters welcome you to bring whatever seating apparatus your heart desires: lawn chairs, bean bag chairs, folding chairs, kitchen chairs or even a whole couch! If it fits in your vehicle, you can bring it to the drive-in. (A couch might require a more sizable vehicle like a Toyota Tacoma.)
2. Blankets and comfy clothes
Going to the drive-in is just like going to a picnic at the park; you need all of the essentials. And what’s more of an essential picnic amenity than a big comfy blanket? Spread it out on the ground or your car, cover up with it and just be snug as a bug in a rug. And the movie theater might require a more casual style of dress, but the atmosphere of the drive-in is very relaxed so wear your sweats and hoodies and get comfy.
3. Pack food and drinks
There’s a moment when you’re in line for the concession stand and deeply regret the ridiculous amount of money you’re about to shell out for popcorn and a gallon of soda. At the drive-in you can forgo all of that angst and bring whatever you please. You can bring a cooler full of drinks, loads of snacks and can even grill hot dogs and burgers. Some theaters do charge a fee for bringing your own food, so check with your local drive-in before you go.
4. Get there early
When you go to the drive-in you are basically bringing your entire seating area with you, right? Well here’s the thing: so is everyone else! Unless you want your engine idling as you wait in line with a dozen other cars you should get to the drive-in early. Getting there 30 minutes should help you avoid a long line. Arriving early is also important because the movies typically start on time – no previews!
5. Bring games and activities
When you’re at the drive-in you’re going to have some time to kill: this could be before the movie starts, between movie screenings or let’s be honest, sometimes even during the movie itself. Bringing something to occupy yourselves is a good idea: board games, playing cards or books. You could bring a Frisbee or a ball to toss around; since, ya know, you’re outside and everything. Then you always have the option of distracting yourself with your phone. Maybe you’re reading this on your phone as you wait right now!
6. May love dogs
Bringing your canine companion is another option available to you when you go to ye’ old drive-in. It might be best to leave your pooch at home he or she is of the more excitable and barky variety however. I trust that you know your dog and what environments they will be well-behaved in. A similar obvious disclaimer is to not approach/pet every stranger’s dog you see; it’s for your safety/comfort and theirs.
7. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em
Unless it’s explicitly stated otherwise, most drive-ins allow their movie-goers to smoke cigarettes; if that’s a vice you are prone to use. Here’s another obvious disclaimer: if you do smoke, please be respectful of other cars/groups around you who might not be non-smokers! Check with your local drive-in to be sure.
8. Drinking responsibly
This is another rule that you should verify with your local drive-in theater, but typically you are permitted to bring alcoholic beverages to the drive-in. So pack your cooler with beer, wine or drink of choice and enjoy the warm summer night with a refreshing drink. Keep in mind that your car is not an island, and there are other groups trying to enjoy the experience themselves, so don’t get carried away with the drinks. And, of course, the driver should remain sober because drinking and driving = no bueno.
9. Sounds of the screen
The drive-in movie theaters of yore provided wired speakers that would hang from the car window to bring the sounds of the movie straight to your car. Some theaters still maintain this practice, but, for the most part, the audience tunes their radios to a particular AM or FM station to pick up the sound. If you use your car radio, make sure you have a strong battery or pack jumper cables just in case. You can also bring portable radios if you want to sit outside of the car or additional speakers to amplify the sound.
10. Avoid the bathrooms
There is no way around this one: the bathrooms are pretty terrible, my friends. But when you’re settled in for a full evening of multiple movies with the addition of food and drinks, the bathrooms may be hard to avoid. My advice? Either hold it or be prepared for some out-house-level nastiness. I wish you luck.
11. Cuddly atmosphere
The drive-in movie was invented by Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. because he ran out of ideas for date night. Ok, that last bit isn’t true, but there is something inherently “datey” about going to the drive-in. The warm nights, cozy-close corners and perhaps a bottle of wine? C’est romantique mes amis. Keep in mind that there’s a lot of people walking around and ambient light so you might want to hold off any funny business.
12. Choose your double feature carefully
Two movies for the price of one is a hard bargain to pass up! When you’re making plans to go to the drive-in however you should see what’s playing after your main feature film. No one wants to get stuck for another two hours watching a movie they didn’t sign up for. More importantly if you are bringing your family you want to make sure that all of the movies you plan on seeing are age appropriate.
13. Bring the kids!
A lot of drive-in theaters let kids come for free; at the very least you should get a children’s discount. The drive-in is a great idea for a family night that is fun, easy and affordable. Unlike an indoor theater, your kids can play games or do something else in the car if they’re bored by the movie. And since kids love using objects for things other than their intended use, they’ll get a kick out of sitting on top of the car to watch the movie!
14. Comfy, reliable vehicle
As I mentioned earlier, you are bringing your very own seating area (in the form of your car) to the drive-in. Depending on where you live, drive-in theaters tend to be a bit of a hike. Needless to say, you should (always) drive a safe and reliable car to get you to and from the drive-in. Unless you sprawl out on top of or around the car, that is going to be your seat for the evening so make sure it can double as a comfy movie theater stand-in. A truck like a Tundra or a Tacoma or an SUV like a RAV4 or a 4Runner would get the job done.
15. General drive-in etiquette
The last piece of advice is just to be respectful of your fellow movie-goers. The drive-in is a great way to spend an evening with your family, friends or partner, but don’t forget that other people are trying to do the same! Enjoy yourself, but not at the expense of your neighbors. Clean up your area before you leave, keep the noise level down and for the love of God don’t be the guy that parks their huge truck in the front row! Happy movie-going!
- “Tips on going to the drive-in theater” – Movies by Starlight
- “10 Drive-in movie tips for families” – Tips for Family Trips
- “How to go to a Drive-In Movie in Style” – Instructables
- “Drive-In Movie Nostalgia: Our Personal Tips If You Plan To Visit A Drive-In Movie Theater” – Travel Tips